The Curse of My TBR List

TBR (To Be Read) lists are bad for me. I keep adding titles to them faster than I can read the books, and the list becomes a convenient excuse. I may want to read something but other priorities intervene, so I simply add it to my list of books to read ‘one day’.  I tell myself it’s okay if the list grows; it’s an indication of my good intentions.

Last fall I posted “Reading instead of – or in addition to – writing” and admitted that, “although I read every moment I can, the pile waiting on my TBR shelf is constantly growing instead of diminishing. There’s never enough time to read everything I’d like to, but I keep trying.”

In another post three years before that I had moaned about the same problem and included a link to Jessica Morrell’s column, “Reading and the Writing Life” in which she said, “Reading is part of your job; in fact, it’s a huge part of your job.” I even offered four time management strategies that might help us cope with the time dilemma, focusing on Organization, Prioritization, Commitment and Persistence.

So here I am, still muttering about my TBR list. Why? Because I’ve begun to realize that unless I can actually make time to read the books on that list, it has a negative rather than positive effect. It creates guilt.

Guilt? Ackkk! Who needs any more of that depressing, energy-draining, muse-thwarting stuff? It detracts rather than contributes, and I need reading to complement my writing, not complicate it. I’m thinking my best course of action is to reverse my TBR pile’s growth trend.

I doubt I’ll ever get over my obsession with books, but if I try a little self-discipline maybe I can take control. I’m thinking of using an adaptation of the recovering hoarder’s mantra, “For every item added, one must be eliminated” and say, “For every book added, at least two must be read.” That’s probably the only way I am ever going to banish the curse of my TBR list. It sounds like a good plan, at least in theory. I’ll tell you how well it works next time I’m standing in a bookstore ogling new titles.

How do you balance what you want to read with the time available?

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6 thoughts on “The Curse of My TBR List

  1. joylene says:

    My friend adds the books to her shelf in reading order and as she finishes them, they’re placed on her finished reading shelf in the basement, ready for the thrift store. I’m always amazed when I visit because her stack doesn’t seem to be getting smaller. Yet, when I go downstairs and check, her FR stack is also growing. She isn’t a writer, so I wonder if she’s feeling guilt-free and that’s why she can find time to read.

  2. Shari Green says:

    How do I balance it? Very poorly! My TBR pile is way out of control. Some things that have slipped lower on the priority list I may actually purge from the pile altogether — because realistically, I’ll never get to them anyway. Crossing them off the list (or, if I’ve already bought a copy, passing it to someone I believe will enjoy it) will help with that whole guilt problem. And maybe someday, I’ll actually get through the pile!

    So many books, so little time….

  3. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I have books in my house that I haven’t read yet, and last year I took some active steps to start dealing with them. I track the ones I’ve read, and don’t let myself buy new ones until I’ve made progress with the stacks that are already in my house. (If I finish them and can donate them to make room for more, so much the better.)
    But I also have a written TBR list, of books I haven’t bought (yet), and I put no limits on it. When I allow myself to book shop, it’s a pleasure to read through the list and decide which ones I’m now in the mood to get at the library or the store. Some books are on that list for years, waiting for me to be in the mood. Some get crossed off because I read a sample and decide they’re not for me. But most get crossed off when I buy or borrow them. (This wishlist is also handy if people ask what I want for Christmas!)
    Because that written wishlist takes up very little room (it’s in a pocket-sized notebook that sits on top of my computer), it doesn’t feel unmanageable.

  4. Darlene says:

    It is a problem for most of us. I am not a fast reader either. I am able to read on the bus so as I commute to work I have about 45 minutes each way. I take bookd along on holidays and when I go to the beach. I read in the bath and while the dinner is cooking. I guess I just sneak it in whenever I can. But the TBR pile just keeps growing and growing.

  5. I don’t have a TBR list, but I do have a Wish List of books I want to acquire. I have a TBR pile. If it gets too low, I get nervous. It means a lot to know I have reading material available even if I can’t get to it immediately.

    I read when I go to the gym, have to wait for a doctor/dentist, or before bed. It’s not unusual to have 2 or 3 books going at once. The TBR pile doesn’t upset or discourage me. I just keep plowing through it with no deadline.

  6. Carol says:

    Maybe Susan’s Wish List is a better approach for me. And I like Jenn’s idea of making the list available for Christmas hints, too. Thanks to each of you for adding your comments here. I always love hearing from you.

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